Tokyo VR Views

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo: A Video Tour of the City’s Famous Sakura Spots

Images Guide to Japan Travel

Join us for a virtual-reality tour of some of Tokyo’s oldest and most acclaimed cherry blossom spots.

◆Viewing the 360º video◆

  • On PC, click and drag your mouse cursor to look around.
  • In the YouTube app on your smartphone or tablet, the view changes with the movement of your device. You can also swipe to move the view around.
  • Using VR goggles or headsets makes the experience all the more immersive!

Spring in the Capital

Cherry blossoms have been an integral part of Japanese culture since ancient times. Aristocrats of the Heian period (794–1185) penned poems under the blossoms, finding in the short-lived sakura a metaphor for the transience of life. In the sixteenth century, warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi held sprawling blossom viewing parties at Kyoto temple Daigoji, laying the groundwork for the lively hanami gatherings enjoyed today.

Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. (© Somese Naoto)

Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. (© Somese Naoto)

The oldest and most celebrated cherry blossom viewing site in Tokyo is Ueno Park. It was here in 1625 that monk Tenkai (1536–1643) founded the temple Kan’eiji, one of two temples in the capital of the ruling Tokugawa clan. To liven the grounds, he ordered replicas to be made of well-known landmarks from around the country, which included Nara’s Mount Yoshino, famed for its sakura. Today the park is home to some 1,200 cherry trees spanning 55 different varieties. Upward of 3 million people visit the park during the brief cherry blossom season to take in the seasonal spectacle.

The custom of blossom viewing started to take root among common residents of the capital during the rule of eighth Tokugawa shōgun Yoshimune (1684–1751), who opened sites like Ōji’s Asukayama and Shinagawa’s Goten’yama on the outskirts of the city to the public. The sakura-lined levees along the banks of the Sumida River were especially popular hanami locales. One theory explains the planting of cherry trees as a government anti-flooding measure, with the heavy foot traffic during flower viewing season compounding the soil and strengthening the embankments.

Lights illuminate cherry blossoms for nighttime viewing (yozakura) at Mōri Garden in Roppongi. (© Somese Naoto)

Lights illuminate cherry blossoms for nighttime viewing (yozakura) at Mōri Garden in Roppongi. (© Somese Naoto)

For much of Japanese history, yamazakura was the dominant species of flowering cherry. However, this changed with the arrival of the somei yoshino variety. Developed by horticulturalists in the village of Somei (now the Komagome district in Toshima, Tokyo) in the mid- to late nineteenth century, somei yoshino are propagated by grafting, and mature quickly, typically flowering in their second year. They display densely packed, pale pink blooms, making them ideal for hanami. Subsequently, the variety now accounts for around four-fifths of cherry trees in Tokyo.

Residents of the capital saw their blossom viewing options expand dramatically starting in the Meiji era (1868–1912) as local authorities planted somei yoshino and other varieties in public spaces like parks and on school grounds. Today, stunning scenes of rows of trees in full bloom have come to epitomize spring in Japan, but this image only came about with the rise to dominance of the somei yoshino.

Chidorigafuchi Park near the Imperial Palace offers boats that visitors can rent and drift under the blossoms. (© Somese Naoto)

Chidorigafuchi Park near the Imperial Palace offers boats that visitors can rent and drift under the blossoms. (© Somese Naoto)

Cherry trees bloom along the Meguro River. (© Somese Naoto)

Cherry trees bloom along the Meguro River. (© Somese Naoto)

The glassy waters and stone walls of the Chidorigafuchi moat outside the Imperial Palace offer an enchanting setting in which to view the blossoms. Visitors can rent rowboats and leisurely paddle beneath the canopy of flowers, which assume an ethereal glow when lit up at night. As the hanami season progresses, fallen petals form hanaikada, or “rafts of flowers,” that turn the surface of the moat a brilliant pink.

The Meguro River has one of the longest stretches of cherry trees in Tokyo. Extending nearly 4 kilometers and consisting of some 800 trees, the rows of sakura were planted in the early part of the twentieth century when the concrete retaining walls that now line the river were constructed. During blossom viewing season, admirers snake along the adjacent roads and pathways, while others enjoy the blooms as they drift down the river in special hanami boats.

Cherry blossoms have come to occupy a special place for Japanese, who eagerly follow the sakura forecast each season. The cherry blossom’s sentimental importance is bolstered by the fact that they bloom at a transitional period in the Japanese calendar. The sakura serve as a backdrop to such important life events as students starting school, and moving to the next phase of their education, and freshly minted graduates embarking on new careers at companies. For these and many other reasons, cherry blossoms enjoy the status of Japan’s unofficial national flower.

(Originally published in Japanese. Reporting and text by

tourism sakura Tokyo cherry blossoms virtual reality